Although these threatened big cats are mostly elusive, they occasionally come in contact with people and livestock. The GSLEP Secretariat developed a policy brief on managing snow leopards in unusual or conflict situations. Our Mongolia team recently called together environmental inspectors and herders for critical training via Zoom, using this document to discuss how best to respond to these types of cases.
Research has shown that snow leopards prefer to prey on wild ungulates such as blue sheep, ibex, markhor, and argali. But occasionally, they kill livestock in pastures that are not actively guarded. If unattended, livestock can become easy prey for them. Poorly constructed nighttime corrals with low walls or unsecured doors or windows are also vulnerable to attacks. Such cases are relatively rare but often result in multiple livestock killed in a single episode.
When snow leopards are directly encountered, local law enforcement and herders concerned for their own safety plus the safety of livestock and their families may end up killing or capturing these cats. This important training discussed alternatives and best practices in many different scenarios.
In late November, 38 participants from remote western and southern Mongolian provinces, including environmental inspectors, national park staff, and local rangers, gathered via Zoom to learn how to better protect their communities and snow leopards.
- Day 1 – What to do if you encounter a snow leopard in an unusual place and situation.
Examples included an injured snow leopard, presumed abandoned cubs, non-mountainous habitat, encountering a snow leopard carcass, etc.
- Day 2 – Human interactions with snow leopards due to livestock predation.
Instruction included measures herders can take if snow leopards attack in corrals or pastures and strategies to prevent or minimize livestock loss from carnivores. Our team also provided more information about the livestock insurance conservation program.
Participants shared their experiences and how they currently deal with unexpected snow leopard encounters. Our team explained why they might see snow leopards in unusual places (young animals looking for territory or individuals traveling from one mountain range to another, etc.). Together, they discussed best practices for responding and reacting in these situations.
One environmental inspector Khureltsetseg (right), said that early in her job, a herder complained that a snow leopard kept coming to his corral. Khureltsetseg was young and inexperienced and didn’t know what to suggest. All she said was, “don’t kill it; it’s endangered!”. She feels bad for that herder now but feels more equipped to deal with these situations after the training.
Our team also advised how to handle conflict situations using our PARTNERS principles approach to conservation. These suggestions included being patient and actively listening to the person telling you about their snow leopard encounter, even if you are not in agreement. They discussed how being empathetic to the person’s feelings and the situation could de-escalate and help calm the person. Our team offered long-term solutions and ways to get strategic support – all key elements of the PARTNERS principles.
One of the environmental inspectors said this training, combined with the PARTNERS Principles guidance for dealing with encounters, opened her eyes. As an environmental inspector, she previously learned to ‘order’ herders around: “Don’t graze here!” for example. But this training taught her she could work together with herders as equals and show more respect. She could see the herders as partners.
- Many of the participants were interested in our livestock insurance program. We have now introduced the project and implemented it on the ground to provide real-time information.
- We asked for advice from participants to improve a poster we are planning to deliver to herders as a guide to prevent livestock loss from carnivores.
- We started a Facebook group for Mongolia environmental inspectors and rangers working in snow leopard habitats. It already has about 70 members! The channel has become a valuable platform for questions, sharing and exchanging resources and ideas, and announcing opportunities for additional training.
The online seminar was a huge success, delivering vital information to the stakeholders. They will now be sharing this information at the local level to promote co-existence with snow leopards.